Sunday, September 11, 2016

Race of the Day- Pennsylvania U.S. Senate

57 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

On this date, 15 years ago, American airline passengers fought the first battle in the War on Terror in the skies above Pennsylvania, and in sacrificing their lives, saved countless others. Their heroism should always be duly noted, especially as we look at a highly anticipated Senate election in Pennsylvania.

Republican Senator Patrick Toomey is seeking a second term this year. He had an interesting path to the Senate. A former Congressman, Toomey mounted a primary challenge in 2004 to then GOP Senator Arlen Specter, running well to the incumbent's left. He narrowly lost that primary, which Republicans considered a necessity in holding the seat in the swing state, but was planning to run again against Specter in the 2010 primary. Realizing he faced a far more difficult primary challenge this time, Specter switched parties and became a Democrat. Expecting to face Toomey in the general election, the incumbent party switcher had the support of the entire party establishment from the White House on down, but Specter would go on to lose a primary after all, this time to a more liberal Democrat. In the general election for what was now an open seat, Toomey prevailed, but Democrats have had him targeted since.

Almost from the start, Toomey's defeated 2010 opponent, former Congressman Joe Sestak was aiming for a rematch. While he had a significant military biography, Sestak was known as "difficult" on Capitol Hill, and many in the party felt he would not be the strongest candidate to take on Toomey. Party leaders looked for another candidate and they found one in Kathleen McGinty. A former Environmental Protection Secretary in the Keystone State, she mounted a run for Governor in 2014, only to finish a distant fourth in the Democrat primary. The candidate who ultimately beat her and became Pennsylvania's new Governor, named McGinty to be his Chief of Staff. She resigned from that post to run for the Senate, doing so with his support, as well as just about everyone in the party establishment, with Barack Obama and others, once again working to deny Sestak. Also in the four candidate field was a hefty, bald, tattooed small town Mayor who ran as an unorthodox populist and received 19 percent of the vote. The main drama was between McGinty and Sestak though and she prevailed 42 percent to 32 percent.

Considered the at least slight Democrat lean that Pennsylvania has, along with it being an anticipated high turnout Presidential election year, with an unpopular GOP nominee, McGinty has looked like someone who could capture a seat from the opposing party. Toomey has proven to be scrappy though in trying to hang on to his job. Back in 2013, after the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, the strong Second Amendment supporter, worked on compromise legislation to expand gun background checks. This did not exactly please the National Rifle Association, but opposition to Toomey on the right never materialized and the Senator received plaudits at home for being willing to work on the issue. In this reelection campaign, gun control crusader and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has endorsed Toomey, a rare Republican he has put money behind, and recently so has the gun control advocacy organization of former Democrat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was permanently wounded after being shot. It is pretty amazing that the conservative Senator, who once ran against an incumbent of his own party for being not sufficiently conservative, and who went on to serve as the head of the Club for Growth group is being endorsed by figures associated with a liberal position on guns. These endorsements and any subsequent television ads  could be a big boost for Toomey now though in winning over moderate voters.

Polls on this race have been all over the place, indicating the race is quite fluid. McGinty has a lot of advantages in a year like this in Pennsylvania, but her campaign has not been seen as being that effective in making an affirmative case for herself. Some have shown her narrowly ahead, while others show Toomey narrowly ahead. A Democrat associated firm most recently had her ahead by six points while independent polls are showing a dead heat. There seems to be some modest movement in the incumbent's direction in recent days.

To be clear, this race is a pure tossup and if Democrats have a strong year in Senate races, leading to a takeover of the body, Toomey will be very likely to lose his seat to McGintry. I may very well wind up changing how I rate this contest and factors such as debates could be crucial. Just a couple of days ago, I would have said this was a tossup leaning towards the Democrats, but their party has probably had a rough weekend in regards to the Presidential race, and while Hillary Clinton will still probably beat Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, that looks to be somewhat up in the air now, and thus, McGinty might not be able to count on as strong of a set of coattails as may have been anticipated.

McGinty does not seem to be an All-Star candidate. Ultimately, it may not matter, but for now, Toomey might have the slightest of edges, as the incumbent, and as someone who can point to bipartisan efforts and support.

Toomey campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far:
 8 D (6 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans)
20 R (6 Safe, 5 Likely, 5 Leans, 4 Tossup)

Overall predicted thus far: 44 D, 50 R